A federal judge on Friday denied former President Donald Trump’s request to toss lawsuits accusing him and others of triggering the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, ruling that he is potentially liable for damages over actions he took as president.
“To deny a president immunity from civil damages is no small step,” U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta wrote in a 112-page ruling. “The court well understands the gravity of its decision. But the alleged facts of this case are without precedent, and the court believes that its decision is consistent with the purposes behind such immunity.”
The lawsuits accuse Trump and others of violating federal civil rights and local incitement laws and were filed by members of Congress and two police officers. Trump had sought to dismiss the lawsuits, with his lawyers arguing he has absolute immunity from civil lawsuits over his official actions while in office and that his advocacy for Congress to stop the formalization of President Joe Biden’s victory was within the bounds of protected political speech.
During the rally ahead of the Electoral College vote count, Trump told supporters “We’re going to have to fight much harder.”
“We are going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators, congressmen and women, and we are probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you will never take back our country with weakness.”
Mehta wrote the speech was “akin to telling an excited mob that corn-dealers starve the poor in front of the corn-dealer’s home,” and that his later tweet admonishing then-Vice President Mike Pence as the attack on the Capitol was ongoing suggested a “tacit agreement” with the rioters.
Also included in the lawsuits were Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and the Oath Keepers. Mehta, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, also denied the Oath Keepers and Tarrio’s motions to dismiss but dropped the cases against Trump Jr. and Giuliani. He also said he would drop Brooks from the suits as soon as he requests it.
The suits invoke the Civil Rights Act of 1871, commonly known as the Ku Klux Klan act, which allows lawsuits against government officials for claims that they conspired to violate civil rights.
In his filing, Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., said the attack was “a direct and foreseeable consequence of the defendants’ false and incendiary allegations of fraud and theft, and in direct response to the defendants’ express calls for violence.”
In arguing against Swalwell’s lawsuit, Trump’s lawyers claimed his impeachment and subsequent acquittal for his actions surrounding the riot meant he could not be sued for the same conduct.
The Constitution provides that an impeached and convicted president can be subject to criminal or civil actions once out of office. But his lawyers argued, without offering any legal support, that the opposite must be true: A president acquitted in the Senate is beyond the reach of the courts over similar claims.